Memorial Day weekend fires the opening salvo for summer fun in the outdoors. Millions of people are now blowing up inner tubes and buying new flip flops to mark the occasion. But, based on the emails I get as an environmental writer, it’s also a time to consider outdoor safety and conservation while preparing to toast marshmallows over the campfire. Basically, it’s a jungle out there.
“Most people think of campfires when they think of camping,” said Don Owen, California Firewood Task Force chairman. “Sitting around a campfire with friends and family can be a relaxing way to wind down a day spent outdoors enjoying nature. What people don’t realize though is this: if they transport firewood, they may also unknowingly move harmful insects and diseases, putting the trees and forests they love at risk.”
Owen says hitchhiking pests can establish in new areas and have devastating impacts on trees, our natural resources, and local communities—spreading invasive insects and diseases such as Sudden Oak Death (in northern and central coastal California) and the goldspotted oak borer (in San Diego and Riverside Counties).
Infested firewood is a principle vehicle, he says, for spreading these and other devastating forest pests, such as the emerald ash borer and Asian longhorned beetle. Not moving firewood is one way to protect our forests. “Buy It Where You Burn It.”
For more information on the risks of moving firewood or the California Firewood Task Force, go to http://www.firewood.ca.gov
Ants in Your Pants
Don’t want ants at the picnic? The University of California and the California Department of Pesticide Regulation have teamed up to offer tips for eliminating ants in your home and garden without resorting to toxic chemicals. Online information is available at: http://ipm.ucdavis.edu/PMG/menu.ants.html
Lake Tahoe, the country’s highest alpine lake, is no goldfish bowl, but U.S. Forest Service fish biologists with the Lake Tahoe Basin Management Unit say they’re finding big goldfish – some weighing several pounds – living in the large freshwater lake along the border between California and Nevada.
While goldfish may seem innocent and beautiful in a glass fish bowl, they, like other invasive species, can damage Tahoe and other lakes’ natural ecosystems. How do these intruders get into our lakes? Experts suggest well-meaning pet owners dump them there—live Nemo, live! But these nonnative intruders can promote algae growth which fouls water and they can prey on native species, reducing populations and natural environmental balance.
Brianne O’Rourke, with the California Department of Fish and Wildlife, holds a large goldfish found in the Tahoe Keys of Lake Tahoe. (Photo courtesy of the California Department of Fish and Wildlife.
Packing Heat, Flexing Mussels
The California interagency effort fighting the spread of invasive quagga and zebra mussels urges boaters to remain vigilant over the three-day Memorial Day weekend. People who launch vessels at any body of water are subject to watercraft inspections, and are encouraged to clean, drain and dry their motorized and non-motorized boats, including personal watercraft, and any equipment that comes into contact with the water before and after recreating at a waterway.
“Boaters have taken an active role in preventing the spread of mussels,” said California Department of Fish and Wildlife (CDFW) Director Charlton H. Bonham. “These efforts must continue, so that the state’s aquatic resources are protected and available for the enjoyment of all.”
Quagga and zebra mussels, non-native freshwater mussels native to Eurasia, multiply quickly and encrust watercraft and infrastructure, and compete for food with native and sport species. These mussels can be spread from one body of water to another attached to nearly anything that has been in an infested waterbody, or via standing water from an infested waterbody entrapped in boat engines, bilges, live-wells and buckets.
To ensure watercraft are clean, drained and dry, many local agencies are conducting boat inspections. CDFW has posted a list of these inspections on its website (www.dfg.ca.gov/invasives/quaggamussel) along with additional information about the invasive mussels and what people can do to help prevent their spread in California. Boaters should call ahead to check for restrictions prior to visiting their destination.
CDFW has developed a brief video demonstrating the ease of implementing the clean, drain and dry prevention method, which can be viewed at www.youtube.com/watch?v=GaeAIPLoK-k. In addition, a detailed guide to cleaning vessels of invasive mussels is available on the Department of Boating and Waterways website at www.dbw.ca.gov/PDF/BoatingQuaggaGuide.pdf.
Shake, Rattle and Roll
And finally, as warm weather returns, the CDFW is reminding the public to be rattlesnake safe. All of California is snake country and they play an important role in the ecosystem by keeping rodent populations under control.
Rattlesnakes are generally not aggressive and usually strike when threatened or provoked. Given room, they will retreat and want to be left alone. They are not confined to rural areas and have been found in urban environments, lakeside parks and golf courses.
CDFW recommends the following outdoor safety precautions:
-Wear hiking boots and loose-fitting long pants.
-Never go barefoot or wear sandals when walking through wild areas.
-When hiking, stick to well-used trails.
-Avoid tall grass, weeds and heavy underbrush where snakes may hide during the day.
-Do not step or put your hands where you cannot see, and avoid wandering around in the dark.
-Step ON logs and rocks, never over them, and be especially careful when climbing rocks or gathering firewood.
– Remember, rattlesnakes can swim so never grab “sticks” or “branches” while swimming in lakes and rivers.
-Teach children to respect snakes and to leave them alone.
-Stay calm and wash the bite area gently with soap and water.
-Remove watches, rings, etc, which may constrict swelling.
-Immobilize the affected area and go to the nearest medical facility.
DON’T apply a tourniquet.
DON’T pack the bite area in ice.